Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Quiet Passion: film reveiw

Zero and I went to see the film A Quiet Passion yesterday. It is well worth seeing, though it seems to be only reaching the more art house cinema venues. Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle are outstanding in their roles. Trailers here, here; and go here for Cynthia Nixon talking about Emily Dickinson and what it was like to play her in the film.

I found the camera work stunning, with a very real sense of composition in just about every single shot. Much of the film was shot in a studio replica of Emily Dickinson's home, which allowed striking use of windows and doors in scenes that indicated Emily's withdrawal into a highly individual seclusion. In particular, there are two striking scenes where the camera, placed in the centre of the room, pans round through a full 360 degrees to illustrate the life of the Dickinson home. The lighting of indoor scenes also fascinates.

I was also struck by the use of Emily's poetry in the film, this being done in an exceptionally effective way. For poetry that is very mysterious, it brought the texts to life. Emily, for example, is shown cradling her infant niece and reciting the poem "I'm nobody. Who are you?". Those who know Emily Dickinson's poetry better than I do (not difficult) will find this aspect of the film of interest, in part at least because of what it shows of the director's interpretation of the poems.

The nature of a film like this is that it will, in places, represent the character of its subject rather than being completely true to her life. Since I know little of the life of Emily Dickinson, I am not able to comment on how far this occurs in the film. A browse of he Emily Dickinson Museum website before or after seeing the film can shed some light on this - Emily, for example, did not allow the doctor into her room to examine her, so the diagnosis of Bright's Disease that appears on her death certificate and is portrayed in the film may not be considered accurate by everyone. And she apparently never met in person  the lady with whom her married brother was having an affair (and who, after Emily's death, co-edited the first published edition of her poetry).

Though Emily Dickinson does not appear to have held a conventional religious belief (she is shown exercising a certain rebellion against a style of Calvinist predestination in the opening scene of the film and later declines to go to Church on Sunday to the disappointment of her father), she is nevertheless fascinated by the relationship between this present life and eternity. The film also shows Emily and her sister Lavinia referring to the state of their souls. The question of the religious destiny of the person is therefore a theme that threads through the film though, reflecting Emily Dickinson herself, it does not receive an affirmative answer. Again, those who know Emily Dickinson better than I do are likely to find this aspect of the film of great interest.

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